Confusing Missouri v. McNeely Opinion Released By U.S. Supreme Court

The Supreme Court released its opinion in Missouri v. McNeely yesterday, a closely watched case not only here in Missouri but across the country. The reason the case was able to generate so much attention is that its result could lead to important changes in how police officers conduct blood tests following an arrest on suspicion of drunk driving. Sadly, rather than definitively insist that a warrant be obtained before a blood test can happen, the Supreme Court only vaguely hinted at the idea, saying that the answer would be determined on a case-by-case basis.

The Court’s opinion came in four parts, one majority opinion, two concurring opinions and one dissent. The only big takeaway was in what the justices were not willing to say. No one was willing to go so far as insisting that a warrant had to be obtained in every case before a blood draw would be allowed. Instead, the majority chose the much more flexible, and confusing, route of saying each case would be judged on its particular facts. The problem with this approach is that officers across Missouri and the country are now unsure of whether a warrant really is necessary when a blood test is about to happen.

Justice Sotomayor wrote the majority opinion and concluded that the worry advanced by the State of Missouri about rapidly dissipating alcohol was usually groundless. Sotomayor said that alcohol rarely dissipates so quickly that the time needed to secure a warrant would result in wildly different results. Justice Sotomayor said that police officers should endeavor to get a warrant in each case that a blood test needs to be done and that only in emergency situations should a deviation from this rule be permitted.

Applying this to the facts of the case at hand, the Court decided to throw out the results of Tyler McNeely’s blood test after the arresting officer failed to procure a warrant before taking McNeely’s blood. Justice Sotomayor wrote that there was more than enough time for the officer to have obtained a warrant and that the very small delay would not have made it more difficult for prosecutors to launch a case against the man.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Roberts harshly criticized the majority for drafting a vague and confusing opinion that officers would have a very hard time deciphering. Strangely, Justice Roberts proceeded to concoct his own vague plan for how police officers should handle such situations. Roberts said that if there is sufficient time for an officer to get a warrant, then a warrant should be obtained. If an officer concludes there is not enough time to get a warrant, then a warrantless test can proceed. Far from clarifying the matter, Roberts’ approach begged as many questions as it answered.

If you’ve had a run in with the law and find yourself in need of a Missouri DWI defense lawyer capable of aggressively protecting your interests, contact our St. Louis DWI law firm today at (314) 863-0500.